Situation: The CEO of an early stage company has identified a person to help her as an assistant. This will be her first real employee. Prior hires have been contractors who have been paid on revenue generated. This individual’s salary will be an expense without clear association to revenue. What guidelines do you suggest as she makes this hire? How do you hire your first employee?
Advice from the CEOs:
Create a cash flow projection to make sure that you have the cash to afford an employee.
If you consistently expect 40+ hours of work from this individual, consider a salaried position which will give both of you more flexibility.
Paychex currently handles your payroll and benefits. Work with them to make sure that all labor law compliance issues are covered. Also, consider hiring a labor law consultant to help you avoid minefields.
Do a background check even if you have known this individual for a long time.
Consider working with a professional employment organization that can provide back-office HR support for you.
An employee handbook is unnecessary at this point. However, think through how you will want to handle issues that may come up including vacation, benefits and paid/unpaid leave like bereavement leave. Document these for inclusion in a future employee handbook.
Under the current health care law employers with less than fifty employees are not required to provide health benefits without paying a penalty. This may change as the law continues to evolve.
Situation: A company needs a strong pool of engineers in their market niche to stay ahead of the competition. Their niche is specialized with little transferability from other engineering specialties. They struggle to find local talent and relocation expenses are high. How have you recruited hard-to-find talent?
Advice from the CEOs:
If you want a mix of fresh and experienced talent and need to add 3 to 5 new engineers per year to keep up with growth and turnover, you will be hiring a new engineer every 2-3 months so you need a standardized, repeatable process that is ongoing. If you don’t have either in-house or reliable outsourced HR capabilities, you need to secure this as soon as possible.
Consider establishing a satellite office in a geographic area which has an available talent pool.
Look for areas with a top university engineering program in your field.
Look at your key competitors’ locations and see whether they are in areas with both the educational and industrial-technology base to be a candidate location.
As you develop a new geography, forge strong relationships with the university programs that can feed you the younger talent that you need. This is a win-win relationship, because universities are focused on their placement statistics and corporate support.
Get to know the professors in your specialty and explore establishing a center of study or excellence within the engineering programs.
One company works closely with Santa Clara University and developed a program that offers financial rewards for the best technical papers produced by students in their specialty. This has created a buzz around the company, helped to establish a study program in their specialty, and enables them to attract the best and brightest graduates.
As you establish a reputation for attracting the best younger talent, this can help you to attract seasoned talent that wants to work with the brightest young talent in the field.
Another option is to find 2-3 key experienced engineers who are willing to relocate for the opportunity to build a new team.
Situation: A small company has a key employee who has been with them for one year. Previously, this individual had been a production manager in a large company managing as many as 100 employees. He excels at analysis, QA and other “doer” roles but has not demonstrated strong supervisory skills. How do you address a key manager functioning at 80%?
Advice from the CEOs:
Small companies are different from large ones. In a small company, people must wear multiple hats and be willing to roll up their sleeves with the others. The atmosphere can be very different in a large company. Past experience in a large company does not mean that previous skills are transferable.
If the person is not a fit for your needs and organization, then you must find a fit or make a change.
Do you have room on your payroll for a job appropriate to this individual’s skills and talents? If so retain him in a new role. If not, then take action.
Engineers often do not transition well to management positions. Different skill sets are required. Shortcomings may have been masked in a large company.
If your future need is for an individual to take on many or your current responsibilities in the role of General Manager, hire an individual who has demonstrated success in this position in a company of in size and focus as yours.
If you need to hire a different person, review your selection process.
If this position requires the wearing of multiple hats, indicate the range of responsibilities in the position description.
During the selection process query candidates on their experience handling these responsibilities. Ask open questions and look for specific instances where they have demonstrated talent. Confirm responses in reference checks.
Key Words: HR, Selection, Performance, Doer, Manager, Supervisor, Big vs. Small Company, Success, Experience, Selection, Position Description, References
Situation: As a company has grown to multiple sites around the world they have lost some of the culture that originally bound the company together. Many new hires are hired locally by regional managers and don’t have a strong bond to headquarters or the broader company culture. How do you build a unified culture in a company with many geographically diverse sites?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company culture starts with a common set of values. These values should drive everything, from hiring, through on-boarding and training, to performance measurement and evaluations. In a strong company, these values should be reinforced regularly and expressed in the day-to-day behavior and decisions of the company.
Look at how you hire new personnel. Is alignment with company values part of the selection process?
Next, look at your on-boarding and training process. Company values and culture should be thoroughly expressed and reinforced in the training process.
There is no substitute to face-to-face meetings to build shared company values and culture. At least once or twice a year you should host national meetings that bring the regions together. At these meetings company values should be reinforced, there should be business content, and there should also be recreational bonding component to help employees get to know one-another.
Consider an annual reward or recognition trip or special event, and include spouses at company expense. This creates a completely different level of bonding, and spouse involvement communicates a company commitment to the families of the employees.
If you have a large number of locations, you should also have a human resources department. Among the important responsibilities of the HR department will be developing uniform selection criteria, uniform training which includes emphasis on company culture and values, and assistance in planning national or multi-regional meetings.
Situation: A company has been seeking additional engineers. Unexpectedly, three excellent candidates independently approached the company seeking employment. This opens the door to expand the department and also to create an additional layer of management consistent with the company’s growth objectives. Currently, in this small company all engineers report directly to the CEO. What are best practices adding a layer of management to the company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Remember that aspiration does not equal talent. There is a big difference between good individual contributors and good managers. The best predictor of managerial success is past successful experience.
You have a number of senior engineers who have been with you for a long time. Have any expressed an interest in management responsibility? Do any of them have a track record successfully managing teams? Similarly, evaluate your new candidates both in terms of both their ability to contribute as engineers and their prior management experience.
If you hire one or more of the candidates, start them at the senior engineer level. Let the company and the rest of your engineering team get used to them and observe the quality of their contribution.
Once you are ready to create a new level of management, make this an open process. Announce your plans to the engineering team, and ask them to approach you individually if they are interested. See who steps up.
When the time comes to make the promotion, how do you communicate this to the group?
If you’ve used an open process to evaluate one or more candidates for management, the group will already be prepared when you announce the new structure and promotion.
An important part of the message is that the company is growing and that there will be ongoing opportunities for talented engineers to earn promotions to management.
For those interested, start with small steps as leads in team projects. Who if effective at guiding their team? Who is a positive source of energy for the team? Who is helpful and goes above and beyond for other team members and for customers? How do they respond to team obstacles? Observe and coach them along the way.